By Roxane Gay
We all know the common fairy tale. There’s a man and a woman—rarely, if ever, do we see stories about a woman and a woman or a man and a man—who must overcome some obstacle to reach happily ever after. There is always a happily ever after.
I enjoy fairy tales because I need to believe, despite my cynicism, that there is a happy ending for everyone, for me. The older I get, though, the more I realize how fairy tales demand a great deal from the woman. The man in most fairy tales, Prince Charming in all his iterations, really isn’t that interesting. In most fairy tales, he is blandly attractive and rarely seems to demonstrate much personality, taste, or intelligence. We’re supposed to believe this is totally fine because he is Prince Charming. His charm is supposed to be enough.
The Disney versions of fairy tales, the ones with which we are probably most familiar, don’t offer much in the way of Prince Charming. In The Little Mermaid, Prince Eric has a great woman right in front of him but is so obsessed with this pretty voice he once heard he can’t appreciate what he has. In his ignorance, he nearly lets the right one go. In Snow White, the prince doesn’t even find Snow White until she is already dead; he is so lacking in imagination he simply falls in love with a corpse. In Rapunzel, the prince lacks the ambition to find a better way for Rapunzel to escape her tower like, I don’t know, building a ladder. Belle is given away by her father in Beauty and the Beast, to the Beast himself, and then must endure the attentions of a man who essentially views her as chattel. Only through sacrificing herself, and loving a beast of a man can she finally learn that he is, in fact, a handsome prince.
The thing about fairy tales is that the princess finds her prince, but there’s generally a price to pay. A compromise of some kind is required for happily ever after. The woman in the fairy tale is generally the one who pays the price, which is such a rotten deal. This seems to be the nature of sacrifice in most matters.
Look at Twilight. The four books of the series are about vampires and werewolves and the sweeping love story between Bella, a young girl and Edward, an old vampire. Really, though, the Twilight series is a new kind of fairy tale. Is there anything particularly compelling about Edward Cullen? He sparkles. He’s theoretically attractive but only seems to have one interest: loving Bella and controlling every decision she makes.
We’re supposed to believe his obsessive control and devotion are somehow appealing. We’re supposed to believe he is Prince Charming, albeit flawed because he needs to drink blood to survive. Accepting Edward’s controlling obsession and vampirism is the compromise required of Bella. Eventually, becoming a vampire, becoming undead, is the price Bella must pay for her happily ever after. We’re supposed to believe she’s fine with that. We’re supposed to believe Edward is worth that sacrifice.It really is insulting, what we are supposed to believe about love and happiness; but there’s no denying that there is something satisfying about fairy tales, about the fantasy of the perfect hero, the Prince Charming who offers a woman a perfect life no matter the price she must pay.
Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker, and Fifty Shades Freed by E.L. James, are a modern fairy tale with a dark, erotic twist. The trilogy began as fan fiction—fiction written by fans of an original series without actually being a part of it—inspired by Twilight. While grounded in the fairy tale tradition and rising out of fan fiction
, Fifty Shades of Grey is also one of the few books that could be categorized as erotica and that has been embraced by the mainstream, if you forget, of course, Anne Rice’s The Sleeping Beauty trilogy.Fan fiction and erotica are not new but there is something about Fifty Shades of Grey that has piqued the popular imagination. The books are erotic, amusing in their absurdity, and disturbing in their cultural implications about just how much trouble Prince Charming can be.( Collapse )SourceI know I bitch as much as anyone else about how many posts this "book" gets, but I thought this one was too fantastic a read not post. Now if only it were in a major publication. And talked about how unethical the whole thing is.